James Dixon is a friend who lives in metropolitan Washington, D.C. and serves as pastor of a very vibrant African-American church. When I worked as pastor of a church in the same area, our two congregations would, from time to time, worship together and share in ministry projects to the community.

James had two phrases he used often: “They think I don’t see and hear what they are doing, but I am not asleep” and “I try to live my life in the key of “B-natural.”

“They think I don’t see and hear, but I am not asleep.” The first time James said those words, I resonated with them and adopted them as my own. A wise leader (or parent) often sees/hears/knows more than he or she can act upon in the present moment. He or she pays close attention to the behavior of others, often without commenting; remembers what people say and do (or what they don’t say and don’t do); adds that information to the mix of facts and impressions he or she considers when relating to them; and waits for the right time to act. Wisdom is not always in a rush; “now” is not always the right time to respond to what one sees or hears. But it is important for a leader not to be asleep.

“Live in the key of B-natural.” I am not a musician, so I have no idea whether or not “B-natural” is actually a musical key and, if it is, what it sounds like. But, I do know that being natural, genuine, and real is part of what it means to be authentically human and transparently Christian. Pretense, posturing, game-playing, status-seeking, power-grabbing, and mask-wearing keep us from knowing and being known, accepting and being accepted, loving and being loved.

“B-Natural”–vulnerable, honest, open, and loving–is a beautiful key and tone for a human life.